Responsible Holiday Partying: Weight Loss & Holiday Temptations

Responsibility stinks.  There is something liberating about abdicating responsibility.  When you are not responsible for an action or a behavior, it allows you to act with impunity because “nothing is your fault.”  This is especially true when it comes to dieting and weight loss.  When you show up for that holiday gathering and everything offered to eat is full of calories, sugar, fat or carbs, what are supposed to do? You have to eat it! There’s no choice! It’s not your fault! That’s a wonderfully liberating feeling: you can eat without guilt!

Except….you really do have a choice.  You can say “no thank you” and not eat what is offered, or you can eat only a little of the healthiest options so as not to appear rude.  Holiday gatherings are always the hardest for those of us working to lose weight.  A lot of us choose to deal with these kinds of parties as Cheat Days. We essentially give ourselves permission to eat the way we want to eat when we’re out at a holiday event. We know there are going to be all kinds of treats of special foods and we aren’t going to be able to resist anyway, so we might as well eat them and enjoy them! “It’s a Cheat Day!”

Those of us who been down this road before know that while it looks good, it’s really a trap. The Holiday Season runs pretty much from October through January where I am and it’s usually full of potential Cheat Days: there’s the Halloween parties; there’s the Thanksgiving meals; there’s Christmas and Hanukkah parties, and then there’s the big New Year’s Eve bash.  Everyone everywhere is celebrating something and then there’s all the holiday treats that make it into the office and your home. Consumable gifts are very common, so there’s cookies, chocolates, cupcakes, candies and liquor going back and forth.  They’re there in the office break room, just calling to you! And we all know how it starts: “one won’t hurt!”

The temptation to abdicate responsibility is there: those sugary coffee drinks/ cupcakes/ cookies/ muffins are irresistible! “It’s only for the holidays! I’m allowed to celebrate, right?” Except we end up celebrating ourselves back into our “fat pants” and by New Year’s, we are resolving to lose those Christmas pounds we put back on! As a result, we end up starting the New Year feeling depressed, as if all the hard work we put in during the spring and summer was completely undone by the Holiday Season because, well, it was undone by holiday eating!

This is the Most Dangerous Time of the Year when it comes to weight loss because of the built-in excuses: we can’t keep resisting the temptation of all these delicious seasonal treats and we’re allowed to celebrate, aren’t we? Yes, we can ‘celebrate’ as much as we want to but at the risk of being a real Scrooge here, we don’t have to eat the cookies to have a good time at the party.

I admit I am a confirmed caffeine addict and this time of year, Starbucks is full of their ‘holiday beverages.’  Two of my favorites are the Eggnog Latte and the Chestnut Praline Latte, both of which are chock-full of calories and sugar! I love those things, but I discovered that I love them more when I don’t have them all the time. Usually, I have between two and four of them during the holiday season and I tend to reserve them for times when I am celebrating with friends.  Yes, I choose to celebrate by indulging in a rare holiday coffee beverage when I am out with friends, but I am just as likely to choose not to have one too.  My friends don’t know or care if I have the seasonal coffee drinks or not, and if we are having a bigger meal than usual later on, I might want to adjust my calories accordingly.  The point of getting together with my friends is to socialize, not stuff myself full of fat and sugar.

I know how tempting it is to give in and have something unusual and decadent! Some of these seasonal treats look amazing and I have tried a few of them. In my experience, most of them look better than they taste! A few years ago, I gave in and had a snowman cookie. While it looked yummy, it wasn’t. It was a bland overly sweet sugar cookie– tasteless in my opinion.  Cute and seasonal, yes; worth the sugar and calories? Definitely not! (I’d have done better to save those calories for an Eggnog Latte– that would have been worth it!)

We don’t have to Scrooge to lose weight in the holidays but we do need to take a page from his book and keep an eye on where we are spending our calories. I know there are people who scoff at calorie counting and while we don’t need to count every olive and nut we put in our mouths, we do need to keep an eye on the bigger picture! Having a cookie isn’t off limits but maybe we can cap the cookie count at two? The same is true for the parties and events: we don’t have to turn down the invitations but maybe it might be a good idea to decide which ones we are really going to eat at and which ones we’re going to do more hors d’oeurves, which ones we’re going to choose to have alcohol and which ones are going to be alcohol-free.

This is the time to celebrate and enjoy the company of family and friends. We don’t have to resist all the treats and temptations as long as we remember we are responsible for what we choose to eat.  Sometimes it really does help to remember all the hard work we’ve done during the year.  It took a long time to lose the weight we’ve lost so far.  Do we really want to put it all back on because we don’t want to pass on the snowman cookies?

 

The Weight Loss Guarantee No One Talks About

When we see commercials for weight loss or fitness programs, they almost always have some kind of 30 day or six week guarantee.  You follow their program for the requisite number of days, and “if you don’t lose weight/ inches, we’ll refund your money!” Of course, there is always the caveat that “you WILL lose weight/ inches” because you’ll be following their program (yeahhhhh, riiiighht!) but no one ever guarantees that you’ll keep the weight off and won’t have to do this again.

There is one guaranteed method of losing weight and keeping it off, but no one likes to talk about it.  It’s not glamorous or ‘trending’ or novel.  It’s Consistency. We all know about it but we hate doing it, so most of us don’t!  We know we should eat more veggies and less processed/ packaged foods, but.…. We know we should avoid the sweets, the carbs, the treats that aren’t good for us, but……one won’t hurt, right??  We make exception after exception because it’s So & So’s birthday/ anniversary/ celebration etc.  Then it’s a holiday or another special occasion or a ‘special’ treat so we cram those treats down even though they’re # 10 or more on our list of ‘exceptions.’  Then we wonder how we got so far off-track or why we stopped making progress or how we managed to gain X amount of pounds when we haven’t eaten ‘that much!’  This is the first sign that we’ve become Inconsistent: we stop making progress, i.e. losing weight!

Then comes the second consequence of Inconsistency: “why is it so hard to resist temptation??” Because we have taught ourselves that we can eat whatever we want! Yes: we have taught ourselves this bad habit! It might be nice to blame all those people who had birthdays or brought cookies or shared candy or other treats but they didn’t make you eat them! Even if they pushed them at you with the “one won’t hurt” excuse, you were still free to say firmly but politely: “no thank you.” It also wouldn’t have been out of line to give the brief explanation: “they’re not good for me.”  But we didn’t say that, did we? We said “thanks!” and helped ourselves! ……And now here we are, our progress stalled or erased and we are once more struggling with cravings and temptations that we really want to give in to, when just a few months ago, we would hardly have noticed that the grocery store has that great bread from that restaurant chain or that the Peanut Butter M&M’s are on sale for Halloween.

This is where most people just tune out because no one wants to hear that it’s our own fault and that staying Consistent would have bypassed these issues entirely! We don’t want to be Consistent because it’s BORRR–INNNNGGG!! Eating nutritious healthy low calorie food every day is just so old and tired! I’m tired of eating healthy food that helps me lose weight! I want to eat all the cookies and bread and sugar that makes me feel like crap and makes me gain back all the weight! Of course, we don’t actually say that to ourselves but it’s still the truth.  We lie to ourselves by making the ‘celebration’ excuse or the ‘one won’t hurt’ excuse, but at the end of the day, the truth is that most of these treats that we want to eat don’t make us feel good, they get in the way of our reaching our goals, and they make it harder for us to resist temptation.  But they were yummy, right?

“Eh…they were okay….” This is also usually the truth.  Most of the time, these treats aren’t as good as we remember them being and even if they are good, they last only as long as it takes to eat them: about a minute or so.  Was that minute worth the cravings and sacrificing your progress?  Add all those minutes up and weigh them against feeling cruddy, gaining weight and fighting temptation: worth it? Yes or no?

I can only answer for myself: NO, they weren’t worth it.  Some were good (bread is nearly always yummy for me!) but at the same time, I know what happens to me when I eat bread: I retain water like a freakin’ sponge, my hunger shoots through the roof about an hour after eating it and the next day, my hands hurt.  Nothing like a pin-through-your-thumb-joint kind of pain to get your attention and remind you “Yep! You chose to eat that bread!” As much as I love bread, it’s not worth the ‘hangover’ I have to suffer through for the next couple of days or so until the grains and carbs get cleared from my body.

But is Consistency really boring?  Not unless we make it boring!  For most of us, there are a lot of foods on that healthy and nutritious list, but we either don’t want to make them or we just crave novelty. Right now, there are dozens of new books hitting the stores almost every day full of delicious, low calorie healthy recipes and, if you don’t want to buy a book, the same kinds of recipes are available for free on Instagram, Facebook, websites and blogs! All you have to do is Google!  You can eat something different that’s healthy, low calorie, low carb and unprocessed every day if you choose to do the work! (FYI: I Googled for you & there are links below!)

Myself, I choose not to do that much work with cooking! It’s too much of a hassle for me and I am seriously happy with much more simple recipes like “fried hamburger.”  I am also just as happy with steamed veggies, tossed salad and –whoa!– sweet potato fries! (Those last almost qualify as ‘a hassle’ for me!) But those are the kinds of foods I like to eat, and if I get bored, I can change it up by getting roasted chicken or simply switching to another protein that I enjoy such as pork, lamb or even an omelette.  The same is true with the vegetables: if I get bored with one, just switch to another! It sounds simple and it is! I don’t have to choose between Mexican or Chinese or Indian food in order to eat what I like, and even among those foods, there are still dishes I can enjoy that meet my guidelines.  Last week I met friends at a Mexican restaurant and had chicken caseras: grilled chicken on a bed of shredded cabbage and onions with guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo– and it was really really good! Even more importantly, after enjoying something different and delicious, I didn’t feel cruddy afterwards!

Also as a bonus, how hard would it be for me to make something like that at home? It’s something even I could do: get a bag of shredded cabbage, chop an onion, chop up some rotisserie chicken breast and mix it up with some fresh pico, sour cream and guacamole! Yummy, healthy and– most shocking of all– it’s Consistent with my goals! I can eat something like this every week or every day and stay Consistent with my weight loss, health and nutrition goals! How boring is Consistency from this viewpoint?

What happens with most of us (me included) is we get stuck in a rut.  It’s easy to fill the fridge with rotisserie chicken and bagged veggies so we forget that there’s a whole array of foods and recipes that are available to us. In that situation, yes, Consistency is boring, but it doesn’t have to be! We don’t know what to look for or we get lazy and rather than try to find something new that stays within our eating guidelines, we go back to what we used to eat.  The problem is the way we used to eat is what caused us to gain weight and feel cruddy all the time.  We call it a treat or a special occasion but all we are treating ourselves to is failed goals, a blood sugar roller coaster, weight gain and added aches and pains.  Personally, I don’t think of any of those things as “treats!”

Food For Thought

Nom Nom Paleo

Paleo Leap

Primal Potential

Eating Clean

 

 

Party Time!: Weight Loss & the Socialization of Food

When we think about food, we tend to focus on what it is and the calories involved rather than what it means to us, but it is the meaning behind the food that is usually what’s driving us to eat.  Food has psychological and social meanings to us.  When we think “cake” we tend to think “celebration.”  When we think about consolation or solace, it’s usually things like “ice cream” or “chocolate.” Or if it’s just plain comfort, it can be something warm and hearty like “soup” or “mac & cheese.” For me, even today, “enchiladas” means family holidays and gatherings. My mom said the word to me and instantly I envisioned my grandma’s house with a laden dining room table!  We’ve begun to think of the food itself as the actual event. How can we have a birthday without cake? What kind of Thanksgiving doesn’t have stuffing and pumpkin pie? We can’t watch a football game without beer and nachos any more than we can envision New Year’s Eve without champagne or alcohol.  For us, the FOOD has become the EVENT!

Our brains know that’s not the case, but somewhere in our psyche, the two have become almost inseparable.  We’ve convinced ourselves that if we don’t have “THE” food associated with whatever event is taking place, then we’ve missed out on the actual event.  How can we go out with friends without having drinks? How can we celebrate Fourth of July without hot dogs, burgers or beer? Hanging out with friends doesn’t require alcohol any more than the fireworks and parades on July 4th need burgers and beer in order to take place. While it seems like it’s easy to disentangle the food and drinks from the celebration or holiday, it’s only easy on a physical level.  Anyone can show up at Thanksgiving and not eat the pie and stuffing just like no one is going to shove cake and ice cream into your mouth at your granny’s birthday party.  You can attend the events without being forced to eat everything that’s there, but our psyches don’t understand that.

Our minds– not our brains–have intertwined eating with celebrating, so while you can go to a family holiday and not eat the pie, the enchiladas or the stuffing and the cake, your mind is not only telling you that you missed out on all the yummy goodies, it is telling you that you missed the big celebration because it “doesn’t feel right.”  You may have brought a gift, given Granny a big birthday hug and sang “Happy Birthday” as she blew out the candles, but because you didn’t have a piece of her cake, you “missed the birthday.”  Logically, our brains roll their inner eyes and shake their figurative heads at this foolishness, but our minds are confused: something is missing! It doesn’t feel like a birthday party!

Obviously, part of this comes from changing our routines (not eating all the stuff you normally eat) and part of it is our own awkwardness at being seen as different from the others.  Since we didn’t “do like everyone else did,” we feel like we are standing out like a sore thumb and “everyone” must have noticed that we said no to the beer, the birthday cake or whatever is being served.  Somehow, it makes hanging out with friends feel less like socializing and more like an ordeal.  Saying no to the beer, appetizers or cake can feel rude, almost as if you need to explain why you aren’t joining in with everyone else.

Normally, this is where I would just be a b*tch about it and tell you to tell everyone else that what you eat or drink is not their business, but when Granny offers you a piece of her birthday cake, you really can’t tell her to mind her own business (especially on her birthday!) In all honesty, if most of your friends ask why you said no to the fried calamari or fried cheese, tell them the truth: you are trying to eat healthier; you are saving your calories for the entree (or dessert or whatever); or that you aren’t hungry.  Your friends might tease you about “going healthy” on them, but they should support your decision to improve your health.  (They are your friends and want you around for a long while!)

The same thing is true with family and Granny.  Even if they do push you to have a piece of cake (“One slice won’t hurt you!”), it’s up to you how much you want to push back.  Granny may not understand that the sugar-carb combo will completely jack your blood sugar but if telling her “no thanks” is going to be traumatic for you or her, then discretion is sometimes the better part of valor.  Most of your family will support your decision to be healthier even if it does feel a little awkward at times. I was fortunately blessed with a family of such different eaters that not eating the carbs was barely noticed at my  family gatherings and when it was noticed, the exchange went something like this: “did you want any rice?” “No thanks.” “Okay,”(sets the bowl of rice on the table).

Changing your ‘celebration routine’ takes practice.  I know no one likes to hear this but the more you practice, the easier it gets. Giving in to the cake, the appetizers, the alcohol or the carbs might make you feel like you ‘celebrated’ the occasion, but it also sets you back from your goals.  Is that really what you want? There were reasons you chose to eat healthier.  For most of us, those included feeling better physically and mentally. improving your health and generally living better longer.  When we deviate from our weight loss and nutrition plan to ‘join in’ at the movies with popcorn and candy, we not only delayed our progress, but we make ourselves feel worse overall. We feel guilty for eating the foods that aren’t good for us and for some of us, we feel worse physically. That sugar-carb combo is going to spike your blood sugar and then dump it way below your baseline, so that mood-energy roller coaster is going to do you any good! Once we get home, we start feeling the physical effects of eating the foods that aren’t good for us and we feel the emotional effects as well: those feelings of guilt and failure.  We’ve also made it harder for us to say no to those foods and our friends the next time this happens!

Virtue is its own reward, which is a fancy way of saying that when you say no thanks, you’ll feel better about it in the long run. Being upfront with family and friends is the simplest way to handle these situation. “That doesn’t agree with me” or “that makes me feel tired/ wired/ bloated/ [insert adjective here]” are the easiest and most truthful explanations. In an age when everyone is gluten-free,  lactose-intolerant, or just plain allergic, most people won’t question your choices.  The more you change how you think about socialization and food, the easier it is to stay with the changes and keep eating healthy even at a party.  The food is part of the fun, yes, but it’s not the purpose of the party. Aren’t you really there to spend time with Granny?

It Really IS About What Goes In Your Mouth!: Weight Loss, Food & Nutrition

I recently watched a rerun of My 600 lb Life: Where Are They Now? featuring an update on one of Dr. Nowzaradan’s most challenging patients, James K.  Like most of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients, James grew up struggling with obesity and by the time he was in his ’30’s he was already over 500 lbs.  That’s when a leg injury left him bed-bound and he has not walked since that injury.  Unfortunately, being bed-bound has added to his weight gain and by the time we meet him in his initial episode, James estimates his weight at around 700 lbs. Speaking with James via computer, Dr. Nowzaradan gave him the basic diet he gives to all of his patients (1200 calories a day and no carbs) and advised him to begin losing weight immediately.

Getting to Houston to meet with Dr. Now was a struggle in itself as James needed a bariatric ambulance to take him from Kentucky to Texas and his insurance would not cover the cost.  James’ father ended up financing the transportation, but once in Texas with his daughter and girlfriend Lisa, he continued to struggle with the diet.  After four months in Kentucky, James arrived in Houston weighing 738 lbs. Dr. Now admitted him to the hospital to begin running tests and to put him on a controlled diet to get his weight down.  Unfortunately, after losing over 100 lbs in the hospital, James moved to his apartment to continue losing on his own, but what followed was the beginning of a vicious cycle of weight gain followed by hospitalization and controlled weight loss only to regain again at home.  Despite Dr. Now’s warnings regarding his deteriorating health, James and Lisa were unable to control his eating and he continued to gain weight. His constant gaining was followed by heart problems, kidney problems, and cellulitis infections in his legs.  After one arrival at the hospital, James and Lisa are shocked to learn that he’s at 843 lbs.

From the outside, it’d be easy to say “what the heck is wrong with you two?!” but they were as mystified as Dr. Now was frustrated.  Despite his repeated attempts to explain to them what they are doing wrong, they remained as confused and frustrated as Dr. Nowzaradan.  Obviously, something was going wrong, but they could not understand what it was.

Quite simply, it was the food. I know you are thinking “no sh*t, Sherlock!” right now, but for James and Lisa, it really was mystifying.  While they were obviously cheating on the diet more than they admitted, it wasn’t really the “cheat meals” that were causing the problems as much as it was all the other food he was also eating.  While I obviously wasn’t there with them and only know what I saw on the tv, I’ve got a pretty good guess as to some of the stumbling blocks tripping them up: 1) nutritional ignorance; 2) portion  distortion; and 3) cravings.

As a former Basic English instructor, I learned early on never to assume that people know “The Basics.” I remember going over a lesson on sentence construction, explaining how each sentence needs a subject consisting of a noun and a predicate consisting of a verb.  When I casually asked “does anyone have any questions?” I was promptly asked “what’s a noun?  Judging by the confused faces in the class, I gathered her question was echoed by most of my students. My carefully constructed lesson was pretty much wasted on them since I was essentially speaking gibberish!

I have a strong suspicion that this was part of the problem with James and Lisa.  While it’s one thing to pass out a diet plan with recommended and/ or ‘forbidden’ foods listed on it, it’s another entirely to learn to read nutrition labels or simply to identify what other foods should be included on that list of ‘forbidden foods.’  I remember a very long time ago when my dad’s doctor advised him to lower his sugar intake and my mom complained about his eating bread. I asked “what does bread have to do with how much sugar he eats?” At the time, I had no idea that bread (a starchy carbohydrate) is metabolized like sugar in the body.  In essence, a starchy carb like bread is viewed as a long string of sugars in the body. While it doesn’t look like sugar, technically our bodies turn it into sugar. It’s one thing to look at a slice of bread and think “starch” and see that one slice is allowed on the diet and it’s another thing to look at a bowl of brown rice and think it’s okay. If it’s not specifically mentioned on the diet plan, then where does that go? Is it allowed? Not allowed? For some people, it’s common sense but for others, it’s a mystery.  While those of us who’ve spent a lifetime eating off one diet plan or another know what to do, for those who have never ventured into “Diet World,” it’s literally foreign territory.  Having the doctor tell you “no carbs!” might as well have been “no finkerrupz!” for all the sense it makes to you. (Let’s not mention ‘total carbs’ vs ‘net carbs’!)

While some of you are rolling your eyes, let me remind you that we all start somewhere different when we begin this diet journey and even though a nutritionist may have been sent out to help James and Lisa learn more about food overall, not all nutritionists and/ or dieticians are created equal.  I remember my own dietician basically giving me a list of rules to follow (again regarding carbs) without ever asking me if I knew what a carbohydrate was! However, as a reader and an information-gatherer in general, when I started asking questions about nutrition, I decided that the internet (though convenient) wasn’t comprehensive enough for me and I went off to the bookstore and came home with Nutrition for Dummies.Nutrition for Dummies ) I am a big fan of the Dummies books because they assume you know nothing about the topic, so you can start at your own level.  I also realize that some people are offended when you suggest these books to them (“she called me a dummy!”)  Frankly, I have a large library of Dummies books because in my opinion, there’s a whole lotta stuff I don’t know crap about and pretending that I know more than I do is the only thing that really makes me a Dummy!

There’s also another pitfall that catches most people unawares: “I thought I knew what I was doing but I really didn’t!” This was my error when I was teaching sentence construction: I thought I was giving my students The Basics but it turned out it wasn’t basic enough! In short, I thought I knew where to start but I didn’t! Hospitals have also learned this lesson the hard way.  When patients arrive for a procedure, they make the patient explain to the nurse what’s going to happen to them.  This is the best way of making sure the patient understands what is really going to happen! I am sure James and Lisa thought he was following the diet and only cheating a little bit, when  in fact, he was probably cheating more than he wanted to admit and also eating foods that weren’t on the diet although they thought that they were.

Then there is the whole issue of portion size.  This is one of the reasons I recommend a food scale in the beginning at least (Ozeri Food Scale). When someone is used to eating a slice of cake that weighs in at a half-pound or a sandwich the size of a loaf of bread, they usually have no idea what an actual ‘portion’ looks like.  The idea that a sandwich consists of two regular slices of bread, 2 oz of meat and maybe one ounce of cheese is a real shock.  A hamburger patty really isn’t supposed to be one-third of a pound or more; it’s supposed to be about 3 oz! The same thing with a chicken breast or a piece of steak– about 3-4 oz is a ‘serving size.’  The general rule of thumb is that your protein is supposed to be about the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand, not the size of your head!

It’s easy to jeer at someone weighing 700 -plus pounds who clearly doesn’t understand why he weighs so much, but the truth is that a lot of us are in the same boat.  The only difference is that while James can’t understand why he’s still over 700 lbs, we can’t figure out why we still can’t lose these same twenty pounds we’ve been trying to lose since college.  It’s usually that Terrible Trio I mentioned above: a combination of nutritional ignorance, portion distortion and cravings.  We think we are eating healthier foods in the right amounts but until we do a little investigating, we may not realize that while sweet potatoes and brown rice are better for us than white potatoes and white rice, they still have a lot of carbs and starch in them.  We also think that a serving is one whole sweet potato no matter the size or that we can eat twice as much brown rice as white rice. The truth is while we are eating healthier, we may not be eating healthy enough to lose the weight we want.

Cravings are another story entirely.  Everyone who’s tried to lose weight has fallen victim to this one, some of us more often than others.  It really doesn’t matter what the craving is for, either.  Whether it’s chocolate, bread, nuts or even something healthy like a salad, if we eat too much of it, it’s not good for us.  If it’s something not on our ‘recommended foods’ list, it only adds to the problem.  While it’s not usually a disaster when we give in to the cravings, we don’t often realize that giving in prolongs the problem.  In short, if you ‘indulge’ once a week, you begin to expect that indulgence and when you try to skip it after repeatedly giving in, it only makes it harder to resist.  For someone like James, who’s probably never resisted a temptation, the cravings can be unbearably difficult. For someone like Lisa who is used to giving him what he wants, the response is probably close to automatic: he wants it? he gets it.

Making the changes James and Lisa need to make to lose weight and improve his health likely requires more adjustments and education than they anticipated.  It means a complete restructuring of their home life and habits.  It not only means throwing out all the foods not on the diet, it means re-learning how to eat, how to buy food that’s healthy and how to think about what we eat. Like most of us, James thought he could out-exercise his cheating and bad food choices, but we all know we’d be jogging all day to ‘cancel out’ that burger and fries lunch or the pie or whatever ‘indulgence’ we had.  Losing weight permanently takes significant changes and these need to be permanent if our weight loss is to stay permanent.  That means re-thinking what’s normally on the menu and what’s not, what a real portion size is and what’s too much, and whether that slice of carrot cake is really worth it.  It means keeping an open mind about The Basics and even changing those Basics if need be.  It’s not an easy adjustment to make but when your quality of life depends on it, are you really going to trade that for carrot cake?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weight Loss & Holiday Treats: Yummy or Not, Here They Come!

We are coming up on the holiday season, and after the Summer Swim Suit Season, this is probably the one that dieters hate most.  “OMG! There’s food EVERYWHERE!” And, it’s never very healthy food either.  It would be different if we had trays of roasted Brussels sprouts on every flat surface or people brought platters full of carrot sticks to share at work, but other than the occasional luncheon crudité platter that no one touches and eventually dries out, most of the holiday food is sweet and full of calories and carbs, but not a lot of anything nutritious.

This is where we feel super-self-conscious about turning down the proffered cookies or the pumpkin bread or anything else some tries to share with us.  We don’t want to be rude and we don’t want to feel like we’re making everyone else feel bad for eating them.  “He/she’s being so good and not eating any of these!”  At the risk of being Negative Nancy, you are not responsible for anyone’s guilt: if they feel guilty for eating the brownies and sugar cookie snowmen, that is their responsibility! (Those ‘treats’ aren’t any healthier for them than they are for you!) If they want to spend January and February losing those Holiday Pounds, that is their choice: you choose not to gain them!

The other danger with all these ‘treats’ is that most of them are just there for the mindless eating. We tend not to pay attention and just grab what’s next to us and eat it, whether it’s something we like or not. Frankly, I ate a lot of Twizzlers that way.  I don’t like Twizzlers and never have (they taste like bland sugary plastic to me.) If you give me a choice of licorice, I’d choose Red Vines (or black) every time! Twizzlers? Blecchh! But somehow, when there was nothing else left in the Halloween candy bowl, yup! I ate them! Why?? Ummm…. because they were there…..?? Yes. Really. That was the reason: they were there!  Even worse, while I was eating them, I would be thinking how they weren’t really good and how I wished they were really Red Vines, but that didn’t stop me from finishing off the bland plasticky Twizzlers! It really is mindless eating. While no one forced me to eat junk food I didn’t really like, the idea of saying no to them was utterly foreign to me.”You mean I can just throw them away? But that’s a waste of food!” As if there were anything nutritious about Twizzlers! (No offense to Twizzlers.)

The point of having a treat is to give yourself something a little special, as in doing something good for yourself.  Is stuffing your face full of blah run-of-the-mill sugar cookies doing something special for yourself? It’s like me with the Twizzlers! If I’d really wanted to treat myself to something I’d enjoy that wasn’t nutritious, I’d have gone to the grocery store and bought a package of the licorice I really do enjoy instead of eating “plastic candy.”  There are better ways of “treating” yourself than junk food but we tend not to think of them as real ‘treats.’  These can be real foods like apples, figs or nuts, or something like utterly radical like going to bed an hour earlier! They are not only beneficial to your mind and body, but who knows? You might actually enjoy them!

How you define a ‘treat’ is totally up to you.  One of my special treats for dessert is dish of dried figs and some Brie.  It’s basically a fruit & cheese plate but I love it!  A treat also doesn’t have to be food.  Some of you may know I have two poodle mixes, Remy (5) and Bentley (18 months) and while they are both poodle mixes, they have very different personalities. Bentley loves a new cookie or a chewer but Remy? His idea of a treat is several minutes of playing fetch! Give him a choice of a food treat or his favorite fetch ball, and woof! throw the ball! If he even takes the cookie from my hand, it’s left in his bed for Bentley to steal.  He’d rather play with the ball every time.  Why? Because for him, playing fetch is something more special than any cookie or chewer I can offer. He doesn’t care if Bentley eats all his cookies and if all the chewers end up in Bentley’s bed, as long as the fetch toys stay in his!

In the end, it’s up to you to decide what is really a treat for you.  If you love Twizzlers and decide that’s what you are going to indulge in this holiday, good for you! (I will gladly donate my share!) My only advice when it comes to treats, Twizzlers or not, is this: make sure it is something you mindfully enjoy! Whether it’s taking a day off to binge The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel with a bowl of popcorn, or sleeping late on Sunday morning or even finishing off the last of the pumpkin loaf, as long as it is something special and enjoyable to you and you are paying attention to your enjoyment of it, then it really counts as a TREAT.  Scarfing down the last popcorn ball as you’re running out the door to Target doesn’t count as a treat because, really, did you enjoy that popcorn ball? If and when you decide to treat yourself, then make the most of it! Set aside the time to enjoy that bowl of popcorn! Save the pumpkin loaf for a time when you can eat it without being rushed or distracted! Or if it’s sleeping in or lounging on the sofa with a book, then do it without distraction or interruption.  This is your treat after all, whether it’s edible or not!

 

Weight Loss & The Cheat Meal: It’s All About Mileage

There is not much more in dieting and weight loss that is more controversial than The Cheat Meal.  There are advocates who swear a Cheat Meal keeps you from going off the rails (and eating a whole cheesecake) and then there are detractors who swear that it creates cravings and leads to you eating the whole cheesecake you were trying to avoid! Depending on who or what you Google, you can find flood of “research” on both sides.  So, The Cheat Meal: yes or no?  My answer? “Eventually.”

I like to compare a Cheat Meal to taking a long road trip. Obviously when you are learning to drive or just gotten your license, are you going to take a long car trip?  Those of you with teen drivers, take a good look at them: are you going to let them drive a hundred miles by themselves with that brand new license in their pocket?  Of course not! They don’t have the experience! They might think that they do, but you and I both know that there are a lot of situations out there that they’ve never encountered. Once they’ve been around the block a few thousand times and maybe driven some distances with an adult, then they can set out on their own, when everyone is a little more confident in their ability to handle a car a long way from home on their own.

The Cheat Meal is the metaphorical Road Trip of your weight loss experience.  You remember the first time you had to back out of parking space into traffic? Just a little bit hairy! Remember the first time you got lost in a strange town? (Even scarier before Google Maps!) Or how about the first time your car died on the highway on the way to somewhere else? (“How can I call AAA when I don’t even know where I am?”) The first time these things happen to you, it’s scary and confusing and, let’s face it, you are more likely to make a mistake.  The same thing happens when you try indulging in a Cheat Meal too soon!

When you have been following your weight loss plan for some time, you develop consistency.  We all know that’s the cornerstone of weight loss: if you eat better 95% of the time, then you are going to be healthier simply because you aren’t eating a lot of unhealthy food. That is pretty much a given: healthy whole foods 95% of the time beat junk food 5% of the time.  The problem is, like our teen drivers, we think we know what we’re doing! We think we are consistent when our consistency is still pretty new. We think a few months is enough time for us to be “consistent.” When we compare it to driving we know that a few months behind the wheel is nothing! I don’t mean that you have be consistently eating healthy for five years before you can have a Cheat Meal, but let’s face it: when you get excited about having a Cheat Meal, that’s probably a clue that you haven’t been consistent long enough!

Most of us get a little apprehensive when we are planning a long road trip but how much of that anxiety is directly related to driving the car? I don’t mean being anxious about things like packing the car or confirming hotel reservations or making sure you brought sunscreen.  Other than plugging the hotel’s address into Google Maps or Garmin, most of us don’t think about the driving other than maybe “I’ve got gas, right?” That’s because at this point in our lives, actually driving a car is not a big deal.  We fuss over the little things like the cord for the iPod or the phone charger for the car, which are not really related to driving the car in traffic on the highway.  If you get anxious about passing someone on the highway or making a U turn at an intersection, maybe you aren’t ready to take that road trip behind the wheel.

It’s the same philosophy about weight loss and Cheat Meals.  When you have been consistent long enough, the actual food is less of an issue.  Usually, a Cheat Meal is connected with some kind of celebration or you’ve made a conscious decision to try something that looks as if it’s worth the calories or carbs. You decide to have a small piece of cake to celebrate someone’s wedding or you’ve never had real Cherries Jubilee, so you decide to take a taste. You aren’t worried that you’ll go back for more or eat too much because the food is about taking part in the celebration/ occasion going on around you and not really about the actual food.  If you get more excited about eating garden variety macaroni & cheese, pizza or birthday cake, then you probably don’t have enough “consistency mileage” to try a Cheat Meal.

At the risk of sounding like a Negative Nancy, when you don’t have enough experience being consistent with your healthy eating, Cheat Meals can lead to some major setbacks.  It really can lead to cravings or too many indulgences.  We get lulled into that false sense of security because we’ve been consistent for so many weeks or months and “we’ve got this!”  Maybe you have and maybe you haven’t, but getting all anxious about what you are going to be eating or afraid of having cravings afterwards are some pretty good signs that you haven’t been consistent long enough to indulge in a Cheat Meal.

Unfortunately, most of us reach this conclusion once we’ve eaten an entire pizza or a bag of Oreos and we feel like we’ve blown our weight loss plan to smithereens! Remember the first time you put a big dent in Mom’s minivan or Dad’s SUV? You and they were probably a bit upset at the time but ultimately, it was all okay. They forgave you because you were a new driver and hey, mistakes happen! That’s why we have insurance and, frankly, the only way to get better at driving a car is to get behind the wheel.  Realizing you don’t have the experience for a Cheat Meal is part of getting better and gaining more experience.  When you’ve dinged your weight loss plan with a Cheat Meal, it’s not the end of the road with your weight loss: it just means you’ve got to go around the block a few more times!

 

 

 

 

 

It Really IS About What Goes In Your Mouth!: Weight Loss, Food & Nutrition

I recently watched a rerun of My 600 lb Life: Where Are They Now? featuring an update on one of Dr. Nowzaradan’s most challenging patients, James K.  Like most of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients, James grew up struggling with obesity and by the time he was in his ’30’s he was already over 500 lbs.  That’s when a leg injury left him bed-bound and he has not walked since that injury.  Unfortunately, being bed-bound has added to his weight gain and by the time we meet him in his initial episode, James estimates his weight at around 700 lbs. Speaking with James via computer, Dr. Nowzaradan gave him the basic diet he gives to all of his patients (1200 calories a day and no carbs) and advised him to begin losing weight immediately.

Getting to Houston to meet with Dr. Now was a struggle in itself as James needed a bariatric ambulance to take him from Kentucky to Texas and his insurance would not cover the cost.  James’ father ended up financing the transportation, but once in Texas with his daughter and girlfriend Lisa, he continued to struggle with the diet.  After four months in Kentucky, James arrived in Houston weighing 738 lbs. Dr. Now admitted him to the hospital to begin running tests and to put him on a controlled diet to get his weight down.  Unfortunately, after losing over 100 lbs in the hospital, James moved to his apartment to continue losing on his own, but what followed was the beginning of a vicious cycle of weight gain followed by hospitalization and controlled weight loss only to regain again at home.  Despite Dr. Now’s warnings regarding his deteriorating health, James and Lisa were unable to control his eating and he continued to gain weight. His constant gaining was followed by heart problems, kidney problems, and cellulitis infections in his legs.  After one arrival at the hospital, James and Lisa are shocked to learn that he’s at 843 lbs.

From the outside, it’d be easy to say “what the heck is wrong with you two?!” but they were as mystified as Dr. Now was frustrated.  Despite his repeated attempts to explain to them what they are doing wrong, they remained as confused and frustrated as Dr. Nowzaradan.  Obviously, something was going wrong, but they could not understand what it was.

Quite simply, it was the food. I know you are thinking “no sh*t, Sherlock!” right now, but for James and Lisa, it really was mystifying.  While they were obviously cheating on the diet more than they admitted, it wasn’t really the “cheat meals” that were causing the problems as much as it was all the other food he was also eating.  While I obviously wasn’t there with them and only know what I saw on the tv, I’ve got a pretty good guess as to some of the stumbling blocks tripping them up: 1) nutritional ignorance; 2) portion  distortion; and 3) cravings.

As a former Basic English instructor, I learned early on never to assume that people know “The Basics.” I remember going over a lesson on sentence construction, explaining how each sentence needs a subject consisting of a noun and a predicate consisting of a verb.  When I casually asked “does anyone have any questions?” I was promptly asked “what’s a noun?  Judging by the confused faces in the class, I gathered her question was echoed by most of my students. My carefully constructed lesson was pretty much wasted on them since I was essentially speaking gibberish!

I have a strong suspicion that this was part of the problem with James and Lisa.  While it’s one thing to pass out a diet plan with recommended and/ or ‘forbidden’ foods listed on it, it’s another entirely to learn to read nutrition labels or simply to identify what other foods should be included on that list of ‘forbidden foods.’  I remember a very long time ago when my dad’s doctor advised him to lower his sugar intake and my mom complained about his eating bread. I asked “what does bread have to do with how much sugar he eats?” At the time, I had no idea that bread (a starchy carbohydrate) is metabolized like sugar in the body.  In essence, a starchy carb like bread is viewed as a long string of sugars in the body. While it doesn’t look like sugar, technically our bodies turn it into sugar. It’s one thing to look at a slice of bread and think “starch” and see that one slice is allowed on the diet and it’s another thing to look at a bowl of brown rice and think it’s okay. If it’s not specifically mentioned on the diet plan, then where does that go? Is it allowed? Not allowed? For some people, it’s common sense but for others, it’s a mystery.  While those of us who’ve spent a lifetime eating off one diet plan or another know what to do, for those who have never ventured into “Diet World,” it’s literally foreign territory.  Having the doctor tell you “no carbs!” might as well have been “no finkerrupz!” for all the sense it makes to you. (Let’s not mention ‘total carbs’ vs ‘net carbs’!)

While some of you are rolling your eyes, let me remind you that we all start somewhere different when we begin this diet journey and even though a nutritionist may have been sent out to help James and Lisa learn more about food overall, not all nutritionists and/ or dieticians are created equal.  I remember my own dietician basically giving me a list of rules to follow (again regarding carbs) without ever asking me if I knew what a carbohydrate was! However, as a reader and an information-gatherer in general, when I started asking questions about nutrition, I decided that the internet (though convenient) wasn’t comprehensive enough for me and I went off to the bookstore and came home with Nutrition for Dummies.Nutrition for Dummies ) I am a big fan of the Dummies books because they assume you know nothing about the topic, so you can start at your own level.  I also realize that some people are offended when you suggest these books to them (“she called me a dummy!”)  Frankly, I have a large library of Dummies books because in my opinion, there’s a whole lotta stuff I don’t know crap about and pretending that I know more than I do is the only thing that really makes me a Dummy!

There’s also another pitfall that catches most people unawares: “I thought I knew what I was doing but I really didn’t!” This was my error when I was teaching sentence construction: I thought I was giving my students The Basics but it turned out it wasn’t basic enough! In short, I thought I knew where to start but I didn’t! Hospitals have also learned this lesson the hard way.  When patients arrive for a procedure, they make the patient explain to the nurse what’s going to happen to them.  This is the best way of making sure the patient understands what is really going to happen! I am sure James and Lisa thought he was following the diet and only cheating a little bit, when  in fact, he was probably cheating more than he wanted to admit and also eating foods that weren’t on the diet although they thought that they were.

Then there is the whole issue of portion size.  This is one of the reasons I recommend a food scale in the beginning at least (Ozeri Food Scale). When someone is used to eating a slice of cake that weighs in at a half-pound or a sandwich the size of a loaf of bread, they usually have no idea what an actual ‘portion’ looks like.  The idea that a sandwich consists of two regular slices of bread, 2 oz of meat and maybe one ounce of cheese is a real shock.  A hamburger patty really isn’t supposed to be one-third of a pound or more; it’s supposed to be about 3 oz! The same thing with a chicken breast or a piece of steak– about 3-4 oz is a ‘serving size.’  The general rule of thumb is that your protein is supposed to be about the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand, not the size of your head!

It’s easy to jeer at someone weighing 700 -plus pounds who clearly doesn’t understand why he weighs so much, but the truth is that a lot of us are in the same boat.  The only difference is that while James can’t understand why he’s still over 700 lbs, we can’t figure out why we still can’t lose these same twenty pounds we’ve been trying to lose since college.  It’s usually that Terrible Trio I mentioned above: a combination of nutritional ignorance, portion distortion and cravings.  We think we are eating healthier foods in the right amounts but until we do a little investigating, we may not realize that while sweet potatoes and brown rice are better for us than white potatoes and white rice, they still have a lot of carbs and starch in them.  We also think that a serving is one whole sweet potato no matter the size or that we can eat twice as much brown rice as white rice. The truth is while we are eating healthier, we may not be eating healthy enough to lose the weight we want.

Cravings are another story entirely.  Everyone who’s tried to lose weight has fallen victim to this one, some of us more often than others.  It really doesn’t matter what the craving is for, either.  Whether it’s chocolate, bread, nuts or even something healthy like a salad, if we eat too much of it, it’s not good for us.  If it’s something not on our ‘recommended foods’ list, it only adds to the problem.  While it’s not usually a disaster when we give in to the cravings, we don’t often realize that giving in prolongs the problem.  In short, if you ‘indulge’ once a week, you begin to expect that indulgence and when you try to skip it after repeatedly giving in, it only makes it harder to resist.  For someone like James, who’s probably never resisted a temptation, the cravings can be unbearably difficult. For someone like Lisa who is used to giving him what he wants, the response is probably close to automatic: he wants it? he gets it.

Making the changes James and Lisa need to make to lose weight and improve his health likely requires more adjustments and education than they anticipated.  It means a complete restructuring of their home life and habits.  It not only means throwing out all the foods not on the diet, it means re-learning how to eat, how to buy food that’s healthy and how to think about what we eat. Like most of us, James thought he could out-exercise his cheating and bad food choices, but we all know we’d be jogging all day to ‘cancel out’ that burger and fries lunch or the pie or whatever ‘indulgence’ we had.  Losing weight permanently takes significant changes and these need to be permanent if our weight loss is to stay permanent.  That means re-thinking what’s normally on the menu and what’s not, what a real portion size is and what’s too much, and whether that slice of carrot cake is really worth it.  It means keeping an open mind about The Basics and even changing those Basics if need be.  It’s not an easy adjustment to make but when your quality of life depends on it, are you really going to trade that for carrot cake?